Alberta government commits to improving AISH appeals, while advocate calls separate rule change ‘disturbing’

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The government will adopt the Alberta ombudsman’s recent recommendations to help fix a provincial disability benefit appeals process, but a frontline advocate says a separate regulatory change will create more unfairness.

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Ombudsman Marianne Ryan wrote in a letter last month, obtained by Postmedia, that the process meant to hear disputes over Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) is administratively unfair and lacked important rules and procedures.

At an unrelated announcement in Calgary Tuesday, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Luan promised to ensure follow-through on all five recommendations from Ryan, which include establishing clear policies for accommodation requests for people with disabilities. He also pointed to the government’s move to open the door for department administration to resolve issues before they reach the appeal stage.

“We’re hoping it will cut down some of the workload for appeals and make the process more efficient,” said Luan, who did not indicate whether extra resources would go to the department to better resolve issues.

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AISH appeals regulation was amended at the beginning of April, with a new clause added to specify that an appeal panel “must not consider any information other than that considered by the director in making the decision that is being appealed.”

‘Those voices are now going to be silenced’: advocate

Andrew Green, a social benefits advocate at the Edmonton Community Legal Center who helps applicants through the process, told Postmedia the change means individuals won’t be able to add new information like oral testimony or medical information after a written appeal is submitted — which must be done in 30 days.

“I’m saddened that the new regulation will prevent people from having their stories heard,” said Green, adding there’s already a high bar to become eligible for AISH, and he wished the government had consulted with advocates before making the change.

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“This (was) the first time that an individual, who may have a disability that prevents them from writing, from expressing themselves in a written format, actually has a chance to talk to a person and say ‘I think I should be eligible for AISH,’” said Green.

“It’s quite disturbing to me that those voices are now going to be silenced,” said Green, who suggested the process could be sped up in other ways, like changing the medical forms to better reflect criteria.

Luan said the goal is to make it easier for people to get a result earlier.

“The appeal procedure is chaotic and new information is introduced at different times — it created a never-ending loop for finding fairness and judgment,” said Luan.

Opposition NDP community and social services critic Marie Renaud told Postmedia the process is ableist, onerous to navigate and it’s difficult for individuals to understand when they can get support or accommodations.

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“It’s actually incredible the lack of support that’s offered by this ministry,” said Renaud.

“The fact that they’re not going to consider new information — that’s sort of appalling to me, because in the appeals that I sat in on, there was one opportunity for a human being to listen to another human being to say, ‘this is why my disability has impacted my ability to earn a living and support myself,’” said Renaud.

While Renaud said she’s glad the government is adopting Ryan’s recommendations, she wants to see more action and transparency around decision-making from the government on the file.

More changes proposed to ‘captive’ insurance plans

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Travis Toews tabled a bill Tuesday in the legislature that would make more changes to Alberta’s rules around insurance.

Bill 16, the Insurance Amendment Act, tweaks a bill passed last year that, once proclaimed, will allow businesses to essentially insure themselves by creating “captive” or in-house insurance companies.

After speaking to stakeholders, the government said it’s adding rules for relocating international captive companies into Alberta.

All the legislation and accompanying regulations around captive insurance is expected to take effect this summer.

– With files from Ashley Joannou

[email protected]

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